Sometimes all it takes is one. Ask Liza Ryabkina.
The junior forward on the No.5 Harvard women’s hockey team, who scored four times in a 5-0 win against Boston College last week in the opening round of the 32nd annual Beanpot Tournament, once again spearheaded the Crimson’s offensive efforts last night against No. 9 Northeastern in the championship game. This time, Ryabkina’s output was more modest—just a single goal—but it was enough to give Harvard (16-5-4, 11-5-2 ECAC) a 1-0 win over the Huskies (16-7-5, 8-5-4 Hockey East) and the Crimson’s 14th Beanpot title in front of a lively home crowd at Bright Hockey Center.
“We’re really happy to have brought the Beanpot back to Cambridge and Harvard,” Crimson coach Katey Stone said. “It was an excellent hockey game—back and forth...Those are the types of games championships should be like.”
Harvard got on the board just over half a minute into the second period, when Ryabkina fished the puck out of a scrum in front of the net. The junior, positioned near the left post, backhanded a shot from a tricky angle that managed to sneak through Northeastern goalie Leah Sulyma’s legs.
“I practice a lot shooting from that corner,” Ryabkina said, “so I sort of knew where the openings were. It just worked out well.”
Ryabkina’s performance throughout the Beanpot made her the unanimous choice for the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, and marked the highlight in a season which started two months late for the Khariv, Ukraine native thanks to a dislocated knee. Since her return, Ryabkina has been dangerous with the puck, scoring 11 goals and netting six assists in just 16 games and providing a major boost to the Crimson offense.
“[Ryabkina] has some pretty special hockey gifts,” Stone said. “She shoots as well as any of the top-five people in the world, and I’ve seen some of them in this rink and [in a] Harvard jersey before. Her release is that quick.”
While Ryabkina’s goal gave the Crimson a 1-0 advantage, it was freshman goalie Laura Bellamy and the Harvard defense who made sure it stayed that way.
In the first two periods, Bellamy was mostly able to sit back and watch her teammates dominate the play on the other end of the ice. The Crimson was relentless on the attack, outshooting the Huskies, 12-5, in the first frame before exploding for 26 shots in the second.
“I think we just didn’t adjust real well in the second period,” said Northeastern interim co-head coach and former Harvard player Lauren McAuliffe ’04. “It seemed like we didn’t really show up that period...The momentum never shifted. They just sealed us in the zone a few times and I think that took our confidence away to a certain extent.”
But despite its inflated shot total, the Crimson was unable to push its lead past one, thanks in large part to an outstanding performance by Northeastern goalie Leah Sulyma, who made 43 saves on the night.
Sensing opportunity to pull off an upset in the third period, the Huskies came out of the locker room with renewed vigor and caught the Crimson off guard. Harvard responded with a series of sloppy penalties, ceding momentum and manpower to Northeastern.
The Huskies fired 16 shots in the frame, but were unable to solve Bellamy and the Crimson penalty kill.
“Just like any team that’s coming from behind in a championship game, they’re going to take some risks,” Stone said of Northeastern. “They’re going to get a little desperate. So we need to be able to manage that kind of pressure and I thought we did a good job of it.”
While the Huskies’ Sulyma was stellar in net, Bellamy was perfect, sealing her shutout by rebuffing a swarm of Northeastern skaters after the Huskies pulled Sulyma in the final minute. After the game, Bellamy was awarded the Joe Bertagna Award for the Beanpot’s top goalie.
“She’s just doing what we expect every goaltender to do,” Stone said. “Make the saves she needs to make and keep us in game when we’re a little bit slow-starting...That’s what she’s doing and it’s been very effective for us.”
—Staff writer Loren Amor can be reached at email@example.com.